AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for the 'Angel: Book of Days - Winter' ficathon series. I was handed Connor and Jasmine, future/past/AU. This story got remade over from another one that I was already half-writing, and I rather like the result.
Snow in Melt
There's a hunger in him. He's not sure why.
Nothing satisfies it. Not study, not sex, not alcohol, not drugs.
He doesn't remember this hunger before he left home for college. Before he left home, his life was...good. All good.
In the meantime, he's been doing okay.
His Dad seems to think it's just the 'springtime of his youth' - as though Connor is some kind of tree bursting into leaf - or flower. There's stuff about sowing wild oats and things like that, but Connor knows it's more than that.
Maybe it's to do with the dreams.
He dreams of places and people and creatures and doing things that are just...crazy. They started last summer and have continued to infest his sleep sporadically for almost a year and a half. Weird shit.
Seriously weird shit.
So he dates and he drinks and he parties like there's no tomorrow. He's been through a dozen girlfriends since he started college, and those are just the girls he actually 'went out with' for a month - or a week. He experiments with the shit his friends dose themselves with, does his studies, and gets his marks; but there's something missing in his life.
Something in him is frozen and hasn't yet reached the thaw.
He doesn't know what it is until All Hallow's Eve in his sophomore year, when the party in his frat house goes from wild and crazy to weird and freaky.
Just like his dreams.
The windows crash and shatter as they leap in among the suddenly screaming people. He sees one girl's neck broken as the thing lands on her back, her head slamming down against a corner of the coffee table. Her startled eyes accuse him where he sits, frozen with shock and fear and a rising tide of rage billowing through his system.
"Get to a dorm!" Someone yells, her voice ringing out through the room. "They can't follow you into the rooms unless you invite them in!"
For a moment, he doesn't understand what she's saying. Then the vampires are upon him.
He doesn't know how he knows they are vampires, although what else could they be? Their eyes are yellow and slitted like a cat's, and their brow and noses scrunch up into wrinkles while their teeth are suddenly long and sharp.
The rage inside him suddenly has a focus, an outlet. His body suddenly knows how to move, how to punch, what to look for when fighting an opponent who outweighs him by fifty pounds and wants blood - preferably his.
His friends have always said he's a natural athlete. He thinks, They had no idea.
He had no idea.
It is as if the pieces of the puzzle of his life suddenly fit together. This is what he was born for: the flesh and blood dance of the fight, swirling around him like a maelstrom, pulsing in his body. The understanding comes to him like fiery letters engraved on his brain, a part of him standing back and coldly analysing what he does, even as the rest of him is caught up in the adrenaline of battle.
While the other kids run amok, he stands and fights, suddenly knowing what he needs to know, understanding what he needs to understand, and his body memory doesn't betray him. He knows this. He feels it in his bones; in the way his muscles leap into action, in the rightness of his violence.
The creature before him is strong and fast, but he is its superior. It cannot beat him. He was born of death and dust; conceived of the impossible and yet real. Trained to hunt and taught to hate.
His body knows who he is, even if his mind cannot remember, and the fragments of his world disintegrate and reform, jagged with pain and anger and bitterness.
It lunges for him, but he ducks its arm and knees it in the ribs. It staggers back and crashes against the wall, and he turns to kick back at the one coming up behind him. It trips over a cushion and falls to the ground as another one catches him in the chest with a punch that sends him flying.
He feels his head hit the wooden panelling and grimaces against the pain. Pain is a goad, a reminder, says the voice in his memory, emotionless and harsh. Do not let your pain control you. And so he is up again, catching the arm of the monster as it comes towards him, swinging him around into the first, so they both go down.
He could fight them forever, but is there no end to the battle?
"Catch!" The voice is human and feminine, high and sure. It addresses him, although he has no reason to believe it, and he obediently reaches into the air and catches what she has thrown in his direction.
Incongruously slender in his hands, the pencil is sharp-tipped with lead, but straight and true.
His eyes stare in disbelief, but his hand knows what to do with it and plunges forward. Thumb and forefinger grasp the end and he thrusts it through the unmoving chest and into the undead heart.
It screams with pain and then is nothing but dust and maybe the afterimage of a skeleton before it crumbles away.
He can't explain it. He doesn't need to.
He just is and he does, and they die, dust and ash under the onslaught of him and his unorthodox weapon.
And when he turns to find a new victim and encounters only empty air and sobbing, he stares, as if he has arrived somewhere strange and unknown.
In a way he has.
They stare back, faces and eyes that have seen too much and have nothing with which to fight back the shadows. Their fear-filled eyes are wide and empty, or narrowly slitted. They scream questions at him with their expressions: Who are you? How do you do this? Do we know you?
Under their shocked gazes, he cannot stand. He will not. Their questions are ones he doesn't have the answers to, and without the answers, how can he know what is true and false, right and wrong?
So he runs. He goes running into the darkness, still clutching the pencil, eating up the miles like a werewolf running from the moon. Air and moonlight sweep over him, cold; but the horror in his heart is a conflagration that threatens to consume him whole.
In an alley full of filth and shadows, far from the party, he falls to his denim-clad knees and wonders why he doesn't feel the harshness of the ground against his knees.
There is no such detachment for his mind and his heart.
The eyes of his peers screamed at him in that stillness after the battle: Who are you?
He has no answer for them. He has no answer for himself.
The pencil clatters to the ground, lost and forgotten amidst the terror of the actions that are at once him and not-him. He doesn't know who he is, and he wonders if he ever did.
He barely hears the tread of sandalled feet making their way up the alley towards him. But they stop right by him, unavoidable in his line of vision, and he looks up at a woman who towers over him, familiar and unfamiliar both.
"My sweet boy," she says, and he sees her face, her true self, rotting with worms and both beautiful and terrible to behold. Something in him wants to recoil, and something in him reminds him that he has seen worse. But even as he looks upon her, her visage changes.
Light flows around her, shapes her, moulds her. As he looks upon her, she is normal again, human, save for her eyes. Her eyes are misty, filmed over, unseeing.
And he remembers her.
He should not remember her, and she should not be here. This much he knows. This much he questions.
"I am not," she says, circling him on silent feet, answering what he hasn't asked. "But this is not the first time you've seen something not there." The milky white of her eyes follows him as he climbs to his feet and circles her, wary.
Something in him is warning him against her. Something in him longs for what she can give him. Something in him screams and wails and cries for the loss of even the hope of what he never had. Joy.
She promised much, and where she walked, sunshine followed - but not for Connor.
He remembers that much.
There are flashes of memories that are at once his and not-his, a recurring theme of violence and death, violence and death. He is a creature of violence and death, conceived of it, born of it, raised in it.
He remembers her name.
"So you remember me, then," her voice is reflective. "Do you remember how I died?"
He remembers how she died.
He thrust a fist through her head, mangling flesh and blood and bone and brain-matter, and none of it real - none of it human. Why?
His life was winter, frozen and wasted, like Narnia in the hands of the White Witch. And, like Jadis promising Edmund great wonders, he remembered Jasmine promising him great joy.
"You said I'd share what the others did," he remembers, and although his mind strains to break through to comprehension of 'the others', he cannot. Not yet. "That I'd feel your love the way they did." He remembers waiting for that contentment, for that love and joy and hope to break through to him...
"The time wasn't right, Connor," she said. "Not then."
"Not ever?" The memory of disillusionment floods him, as harsh as any revelation he has received tonight. He stood on the bridge and, with anger and bitter understanding, realised that the things she'd offered - love, joy, family, belonging - they were not for him. Never for him.
And yet he remembers his first little league game, and the home run he hit. He remembers the way the other boys slapped him on the back as he stood in the middle of them and felt as though he belonged.
He remembers losing Lisa at the park, and running around trying to find her, and the woman who led him to his sobbing little sister. He remembers the way she latched onto him like a barnacle onto a boat and wouldn't let go of him until Mom came to pick them up from the park.
He remembers the time he knocked over Dad's model airplane and smashed it, the one that Dad made when he was fourteen and was so proud of. He remembers his Dad coming to his room very late that night and putting his arm around him and hugging him as he said that the airplane meant a lot to him, but Connor meant more.
He remembers a man - dark-haired, and young and old with too much pain in his eyes - kneeling over him in a shop, holding him down, standing in his way. Always and forever. "I really do love you, Connor."
He remembers the knife that cut his throat...
And then he remembers nothing.
He looks at Jasmine - at her hazy, unseeing eyes - and he has a sudden insight into her nature. He remembers only a little of what she was, of what she did, but now he can see that she never saw the world around her at all. She was blind, not to its faults but to its possibilities, seeing only what it should be and, lost in that vision, she failed to see what it was and what it is.
"You weren't ready for it, sweet boy," she tells him. "Your heart wasn't open. You couldn't accept it the way other people did."
He remembers why he destroyed her.
All his life, Connor has lived among people who have never seen him at all.
He remembers a man who brought him up, but never saw Connor - only a weapon to be pointed back at the throats of those who had taken everything he held dear.
He remembers people who took him in, but never saw Connor - only a dangerous young man who would do what they asked of him.
He remembers the friends who accepted him, but never saw Connor - only the lazy-eyed wastrel student who was enough like them to be acceptable.
And Jasmine was one more person who never saw him - only a tool to do her bidding, with a need to be loved and accepted that she could use to reel him in like the marlin he hauled in with his Dad last summer.
"The truth was, you couldn't give me the love and acceptance I wanted," he tells her now. His words are harsh with a judgement he was not qualified to make then, but is now. "Because you didn't give love or acceptance at all."
Her expression convulses and she protests his words. "I gave them a world without pain! No suffering, no fear, no hatred..."
"You gave them a lie," Connor says. "Because love isn't about making people into what you think they should be." He knows that now. He sees it now as he couldn't see it then. The confusion he remembers feeling, the conflict that tore him up inside, they are gone, and he knows the way the world should work as well as the way it does work. He knows about love now, as he couldn't understand it then. "Love is living with what they are and sticking by them anyway. Anything else is control - and love isn't about control."
Something in him coolly points out that he is arguing with the air - that the vision of Jasmine is not real, but a memory of a time when he felt disassociated, distant, different.
A time when he felt then like he feels now: cut off from the world around him and without belonging.
"I loved them," she cries, "I wanted the best for them. I gave them the best of me!"
"You gave them no choices," he reminds her, unmoved by her pleas. "You overruled them, your will in place of theirs - that's not love. That's not human love - and if you couldn't love them as humans, then why love them at all?"
He knows about love now. He knows it as he didn't know before. And something in him mourns that another part of his life has fallen to lies, and yet in that living that never happened, there is more truth, more reality distilled than anything he knew before - save for one thing.
There was a man, once, somewhere, who knew him. Who knew what he was, what he was capable of, what he could do and what pain and hatred lurked within him.
And that man had loved him. He had accepted Connor as Connor - scars and pain and hatred and bitterness and all. He stuck by Connor, even when others had written him off. He trusted Connor, even when Connor betrayed him.
That man with his face so young and his eyes so old, and the grief so strong it surrounded him like a miasma; that man is gone.
Connor remembers this as he looks into Jasmine's unseeing eyes. "You're not really here," he tells her. "Go away."
She makes a sound much like mocking laughter. "I'm always here," her voice rings out through the night, proud and fierce. "I was born in the fires of creation - I cannot die." But even as she speaks, the image of her fades and she is gone.
Connor sinks down to the ground, crouching low, one hand on the cold ground to balance himself.
It has been a strange night.
It is shortly to become even stranger.
As if doors have opened to the world around him, Connor is suddenly assaulted with knowledge. He can smell the world around him, taste the air, and feel the way everything fits together - or doesn't fit together. The awareness is something he felt earlier tonight while fighting the vampires, but that was only then.
This...this is life and living in exquisitely fine detail.
At his feet, the pencil lies discarded, and he bends down to retrieve it and brings it up to his face.
There is a scent on it. Fading, but distinct as any signature, as any thumbprint. He doesn't know how he can tell this, but it's there in his nostrils like a perfume. It's feminine and there's something...supernatural about it. Something strange and foreign to it. It doesn't smell like a girl's scent should - although how he knows that, he can't imagine.
Connor frowns. He hears the voice that told him to catch the pencil, and remembers it was female. She knew how to kill the vampires. She knew how to fight them, how to protect people. "Get to a dorm! They can't follow you into the room unless you invite them in!"
She knew. Connor did not. But he should have known this.
Why didn't he?
How did she?
Once again, he is moving without realising it, the pencil still clutched in his hand. If the girl who gave him the pencil knew how to dispose of the vampires, then she will know what he is. The logic is not complete, but it will do. Connor has questions without answers - too many and too confusing for his mind to hold. He sets his face and his feet back to the university, back to the dorms, and he runs.
This time, he is aware of the distance he runs and the speed at which he lopes. He is aware of the scent of the night breeze, and that the man who huddles under the bridge is no human, but a demon. He is hypersensitive to the air passing by him, feeling every current, every eddy; conscious of the voices of people he should not be able to hear, things he should not be able to sense.
Around him, the universe has expanded beyond his comprehension, but he runs in it, free as wind and fire. This is his element, and yet, even in it, he feels the loneliness of his being: in this entire world and the next, there is no one like him.
Swiftly, too swiftly, he is back at the dorms in the ebon shadows of the predawn morning.
The lights in his dorm are out, but across the gardens, in the girls' dorms, the wooden slats of one set of window shades burns with inner light. It draws him across the park, and up the stairs, a beacon calling him on with the promise of answers.
He breaks the lock of the door into the dorm building. It is easy enough, a twist of his wrist, and pure force works where a key would usually unlock the door.
The scent wends its way through hundreds of other female scents, and leads to a door beneath which light still gleams.
And when he knocks, he is answered with a voice reminiscent of flowers and brisk days of sunlight and showers.
"Who is it?" The question is asked cool and clear in the predawn. It is the voice of spring, closing the door on the winter of his discontent, and opening the door to his summer - to the full knowledge of who and what he is.
He listens to her voice and feels something in him stir, pushing up to the surface, demanding water, sunlight, nourishment.
"I... My name's Connor. I...I need to talk to you about...about what happened tonight."
The door opens and he looks down into eyes that are cornflower blue and guileless as a child's. She is dressed in flannel pyjamas with little pink teddy bears on them, and fluffy bunny slippers are on her feet. There is nothing unusual about her; she is just another girl in the many at this college. But in the way she regards him, there is something much older than eighteen years. And something about her is not wholly human.
Whatever she is, though, her speech is still typically Californian.
"Can I come in?"
"Do you need an invite?" she asks pointedly. He pushes past her into the room. A typical teenager's room. And yet... He turns back. She is no typical teenager.
"What are you?"
She blinks and shuts the door behind him; leaning against it with her arms crossed "I might ask you the same question."
He ignores the computer sitting in the corner, cursor blinking. "You knew, earlier tonight. You knew about those...things."
"And you could fight them and beat them, but you didn't know how to slay them." She shrugs, teddy bears shifting across the cloth. "What of it?"
"How did you know?"
"How did you?"
"I asked first."
"And I asked second."
He watches her as she walks past him and sit on the bed, curling her legs up beneath her without removing the slippers. The floppy 'ears' of the slippers poke out beyond her knees and yet she regards him, solemnly as a sage. He and his demands don't impress her, and she is the one who holds the answers he craves.
Connor can't meet her eyes - there is something entirely too clear, too piercing in her straightforward gaze. So he stares at the worn pattern of the carpet beneath his joggers and wonders how much he should tell her.
"I want to know who I am," he says at last. "I want to know what I am that I knew how to fight these things, that I...that I know all this stuff that I just...know." He glanced up at her, and tries to smile. As smiles go, he suspects it comes across a bit more manic than he'd like, but she doesn't flinch or grow nervous. "And I'd like to know your name."
She regards him coolly, and even before she speaks, he knows her name will be one of hope, of rebirth, of winter snows in melt beneath the season's steady turning, and the sun rising from grey shadows, burning away the mists that shroud his past.
He is right.
- fin -
ENDNOTES: I have more Buffy&Angel fic on my site, however much of it is very dark and edgy stuff, so I don't post a lot of those fics on here.